Wednesday, September 19, 2018

414-Tormented


Film Year:  1960
Genre:  Thriller, Horror
Director:  Bert I. Gordon
Starring:  Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Juli Reding
MST Season:  4

The Movie

What's this?  A Bert I. Gordon film without forced perspective giant animals?  Don't worry folks!  There are still plenty of superimposed shots to make us feel right at home!  Like The Magic Sword, Tormented is a bit of a departure for "Mr. B.I.G."  We're used to a certain type of Gordon movie on the show and now season four of MST has given us a one-two punch of his experimental period.  If this isn't your cup of tea, don't fret since Beginning of the End will soon be up to bat in season five!

Tormented is a ghost story about Tom Stewart, a musician who is blackmailed by an ex-lover named Vi.  Confronting her in a lighthouse, Vi falls over a railing and as she's clinging on for life begs Tom to help her.  Tom has a Christian Bale Batman moment of "I'm not going to kill you but I don't have to save you" and he lets her fall to her death.  Fearing being linked to her death, Tom covers it up and tries to go about his life with his new fiance, but soon finds himself being haunted by both his guilt and Vi's ghost.

It's a fairly interesting Telltale Heart meets supernatural story, as we watch a man's desire to free himself of a potential threat through questionable means and have it spiral out of control.  Tormented is a not entirely unwatchable movie, though while we understand their motivations these characters lack sympathy.  This is probably intentional, though if Tom were less cold-hearted and conniving his story would pack more oomph.  Vi is hard to sympathize with because she's a life-wrecking bitch, which she continues to play into even in the afterlife.  At that point she has the excuse of having been indirectly murdered to be cruel, but it more or less just comes off as her fucking with him to amuse herself.

There are a handful of good shots, but overall film is rather routinely made, with typical Bert I. Gordon special effects.  It's not particularly suspenseful, though the story is strong enough to carry it at points.  Tormented is a fun cheapie that could have been more with more time and effort put into it, though the movie is content with being bare minimum "fine" instead.


The Episode

Our gang is faced with a movie that doesn't quite hurt all that much this week and in turn they seem to go easy on it.  Tormented has a lot of silly aspects that are played up, such as special effects and slimeball characters, but for the most part they are content with letting the movie play out.  Are they into the movie?  Not quite.  They pay attention to it, but they seem mostly indifferent.  With a solid quantity of laughs meeting the watchability of the film the Tormented theater segments are constantly engaging and quite funny.

The host segments have some fun parodying the film as well, which feature Servo and Crow posing as disembodied heads ("JOEL ROBINSON KILLED US!"), as well as contemplating whether or not they should save Joel when he finds himself dangling from the rafters.  A tad lacking is a "go nowhere" segment where Joel and the Bots therapeutically contemplate sending popular singers over the lighthouse rail.  A mostly okay invention exchange sees the Aunt Catherine Wheel and a Drinking Jacket.

On the surface Tormented doesn't seem to offer that much.  The movie is okay, the riffing is above average, and the host segments are fine.  The episode doesn't stand apart from the crowd though there is a good episode here that's easy to look over.  I actually think I more or less just remember the episode for the memorable movie itself than the episode around it, but for me I'm going to say it's a solid base hit.

Good


The DVD

Tormented torments us from Rhino's Volume 11 release.  Picture is good, audio is as well.  Special features include a roundtable retrospective with Tormented cast and crew, including director Bert I. Gordon, his daughter and co-star Susan Gordon (who unfortunately passed on since this interview), and character actor Joe Turkel.  Turkel's colorful charisma carries the conversation, while Mr. Gordon mostly relays stories about how he got started and how his films are made.  Susan is mostly silent, though she does talk about how she became a child actor and how it affected her.

Also featured here are a set of MST Hour wraps and the film's theatrical trailer.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Little Shop of Horrors (Audio Commentary)


Film Year:  1960
Genre:  Comedy, Horror
Director:  Roger Corman
Starring:  My public domain DVD insists that this movie stars Jack Nicholson and no one else
Commentator:  Michael J. Nelson

The Movie

*I HAVE SURVIVED WATCHING THIS MOVIE UNRIFFED*

Yes folks!  It's Little Shop of Horrors!

No.  Not THAT Little Shop of Horrors.  The original that inspired the beloved musical version.  But since this is not that version, out of fairness to the original there will be no references to that one or any songs from it throughout this review.*

Infamously known as the film Roger Corman shot in two days, Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of klutzy nerd Seymour who cross breeds a special plant and takes it to the flower shop he works at in hopes that it will boost business.  But there's a catch:  the only thing the plant will eat is human blood!  Seymour becomes an unlikely murderer to sustain his plant, meanwhile daydreams of making enough money to marry his beloved Audrey.

To describe Little Shop of Horrors is almost impossible.  To review it is almost futile.  Much like Plan 9 from Outer Space, it's something that needs to be seen in order to be understood.  You'll either find it dumb or you'll find it charmingly simple.  You'll either find it annoying or you'll find it endearing.  As a slapstick comedy about a nerd who kills people and feeds them to a plant it transcends the concept of good or bad cinema to become something that's a bit of both.  Predicting one's reaction to the film is fairly impossible, though it helps to have something of a love for low budget cheapies of the time period.  I like Little Shop of Horrors quite a bit, if I'm being honest.  There's something captivating about how aloof it is, and there's something otherworldly cartoonish about it that just tickles me.

One thing I will note, out of all the films I've seen from Roger Corman I'd say there is a decent shot that Little Shop of Horrors is the best.  And I'm sure that's completely by accident.

*Okay, just one.


The Commentary

I imagine most riffing fans are ecstatic to hear their favorite comedians taking on Roger Corman.  Look at the MST episodes It Conquered the World or The Undead, for example.  However Corman has the same problem that Melissa McCarthy has in that he thinks he's funny.  If you've ever seen a Corman directed comedy they're very strange beasts:  bizarre and goofy.  Handing Mike Nelson Corman's most famous comedy is almost a recipe for disaster.  Luckily this commentary coasts a bit on how enjoyably silly the film is, and while Mike doesn't quite drown, he just goes along for the ride.

Little Shop of Horrors is nothing if it isn't eccentric.  The fact that this movie shows the audience things that you probably won't see anywhere else (save for a potential musical remake) is enough fuel for Mike to play along with.  Mike does some quality reacting to this movie, at times adding to the gag or just claiming confusion at it.  He questions the use of the wacky music, and plays up the characterizations of most of the nutty characters that are featured (what with the maniacal dentists and insistent hookers and all).  The only one here who seems to get off the hook is Audrey, who you could easily play up her pixilated qualities though Mike barely notices her.

Another virtue of Little Shop is that it's barely 70 minutes long, and Mike seems to strain himself by the end, where he's given a lengthy chase scene where the best he can offer is a bunch of puns.  As the film abruptly ends we're left somewhat satisfied, though the experience isn't quite as charming as the film by itself.  It plays very much like a popular public domain film that Mike was handed and not something chosen because he could make something out of it.  It's not unwatchable, though it's not a must see either.

Average



The DVD and Blu-Ray

Mike's commentary on this film accompanied the film on a colorization release by Legend Films.  The film was also one of two films in this series to be released on blu-ray (the other being Plan 9 from Outer Space), though I'm viewing the DVD version.  You can watch it with either the black and white version or the colorized one, of which I chose color because I hadn't seen it before.  The colors aren't exactly realistic, though they add to the cartoonish vibe of the film and almost enhance it in a way.  I'd say Little Shop in color is something worth watching at least once.  Picture quality is fair, and audio is pretty good.

Special features include an informative Gallery on Killer Plants.  Next up is a charmingly dumb (like the film itself) thirty second feature called "Man Eating Plants," which is just a man eating plants.  Finally we have trailers for Little Shop of Horrors, Plan 9 from Outer Space, House on Haunted Hill, Carnival of Souls, and Reefer Madness.

Getting Angry (Rifftrax Shorts)


Rifftrax Year:  2015
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

Willy brings a toy space capsule to school, and since this is a short called "Getting Angry" I'm pretty sure we can all see where this is going.  A ball on the playground is thrown in the ill-fated toy's direction and it is broken.  Willy then takes the ball in retaliation and runs around until a teacher breaks up the..."fight" I guess and asks what is going on.

The moral of this short is to temper one's self and assess a situation, to determine whether intent was malicious or if the situation really isn't as bad as you initially feared.  The tale is fine, though the scenario is a bit clumsy.  But yet, Getting Angry is in rough shape and is a bit incomplete.  In fact the beginning portion of the short is missing (including the title card), though we can easily fill in the blanks.  I don't want to judge something that is incomplete, though I have a rough idea.

Even if it isn't complete, there's a foundation here for a solid, if brief, riff.  There are jabs at the rough shape of the short, the taunting of school children, and, in what is probably the most inspired of them all, there is even a reference or two to the film Rashomon.  Those who buy Getting Angry won't be angry, because it's a fairly amusing seven minutes.

Just be warned that it's only seven minutes.  It's very brief and it never gets a chance to pick up the pace.  But I laughed, and I think others will too.

Thumbs Up
👍

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Tom Servo, Teen Reporter in 'The Brat'" (MST3K Comics)


Issue Number:  1
Release Date:  September 12th, 2018
Adapted From:  Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter #2
Original Publication Date:  June-August 1962

A comic book based on Mystery Science Theater 3000 is an idea that has been bouncing around since the original show was on the air.  It took over twenty years but it seems like the "logistics" (for lack of a better term) of adapting such a unique take on the film medium to a still format has been resolved.  Now in 2018 we have the first issue of Mystery Science Theater 3000:  The Comic at long last for about four bucks.  If you're lucky in about forty years it'll be worth $4.25.

For those wondering if it answers the big question of "What happened to Jonah at the end of season 11?" then the answer is no.  Jonah's just back on the Satellite of Love and he's palling around with the robots.  Meanwhile Kinga, Max, and Synthia (who is showing more character here than she did on the TV counterpart) have developed a new use for their liquid technology:  sending a reader inside a comic book to experience the story first hand.  It's an idea not all that different than the Riddler's Box device from Batman Forever honestly.  Her first test subject:  Max.  He is stomped on by a cartoon giraffe.

But her second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh test subjects are Jonah, Tom Servo, Crow, Gypsy, Growler, and Waverly.  While Jonah and Crow's comic fates aren't addressed in this issue, Servo is sent into a swingin' 60's issue of Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter, where he takes the place of the title character.  In it a famous actress is abducted by a group of thugs but luckily manages to escape by the plot convenience of a flat tire.  However her claims of the abduction are brushed off as a publicity stunt.  Tom Servo is assigned to get to the bottom of the story and goes to her home, rides a horse, and attends a party.

I'm sure what most are curious about is how the "riffing" humor is portrayed in this comic.  Well, added or changed dialogue is noted in each panel with a little circle around the outside of each speech balloon.  The idea is that Servo is somehow "projecting" new dialogue into their own by some means.  I'm not sure if it makes sense, but I suppose that falls under the same category of "how he eats and breathes and other science facts."  After all, he is physically transported into a comic book, if I can't suspend some disbelief in this puppet show turned comic then I probably wouldn't be a fan in the first place.

Adding to the riffs are Gypsy and surprisingly Growler and Waverly, the latter two seem more important in this comic than they were on the show.  These bots are stuck in some sort of limbo, where they randomly pop up in a panel and give an observational riff about the panel itself which wouldn't work as a piece of dialogue from another character.  It works well enough, and I'm happy to see more of the characters.

The big question is whether or not this feels like Mystery Science Theater.  Having read the entire book I can say with confidence that it is very Mystery Science Theater.  I had some hesitancy early on, because I was finding following both the comic and the humor a lot to take in, but once I smoothed out the subtleties in between the two I found the experience very similar to the show.  I even laughed out loud at a few points, including a solid string of laughs later on in which Kinga and Max hijack the comic to create an ad for Tostito's Pizza Rolls.  I found the setup and the entire bit exchange hilarious.  Even more so, I'd actually say the humor style of the comic itself is very much in tune with Baron Vaughn's take on the Tom Servo character.  It's not hard to imagine linking his voice to any of the riffs.

If I had to list some cons, I'd say that while I'd consider their attempt to put at least one joke per panel a virtue, sometimes it's a swing and a miss.  The panel sometimes doesn't give the joke much too work with and they feel they need to fill it with something...or anything.  I'd also say that not being able to experience a Johnny Jason comic in its unaltered form is a bit of a detraction.  On the TV series the film plays out exactly as it would have otherwise, there are just wisecracks playing over it.  The comic on the other hand is altered from its original state in a variety of ways, making it sometimes hard to get a feel for it.  I think I get the gist of Johnny Jason, though I'd prefer a closer comparison between the straight version and the MST version.  Also I was hoping we'd get a full comic in this issue, while it looks as if this story will be split into multiple parts.  It's not much of a cliffhanger, with Servo punching some guy out at a party and a promise that next month we'll find out what happened to Jonah and Crow.

I'm surprised that someone managed to make a Mystery Science Theater comic book that wasn't complete mess of word balloons and somehow took it in a fairly innovative and creative direction.  The artwork is pretty solid as well, with a colorful, glossy modern style for the "outside the comic" stuff and a pleasing, old-fashioned look for the "in-comic" work.  This first issue, while the idea needs to be ironed out a bit, works stunningly well and has me interested in the future of MST comics.  Now to wait patiently for next month's issue.

But hey, it's a shorter wait than it has been for season 12 so far.

And that is still way shorter than the wait was for season 11.

Good


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Invasion of the Animal People (Rifftrax)


Film Year:  1959
Genre:  Science Fiction, Horror
Director:  Virgil Vogel, Jerry Warren
Starring:  John Carradine, Barbara Wilson, Stan Gester, Robert Burton
Rifftrax Year:  2018
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

The Movie

Also known as "Terror of the Midnight Sun" or "Space Invasion of Lapland" (I think I streamed a porno with this title once), Invasion of the Animal People is a Swedish film directed by Virgil Vogel, who most MSTies will recognize as the director of The Mole People.  The film was re-edited and a prologue was added for a US release by Jerry Warren, who MSTies will recognize as the director of The Wild Wild World of Batwoman.

...

RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!

The film is about a group of scientists and a figure skater heading to the snowy mountains of Finland to check out a meteorite that crashed there.  The meteor turns out to be an alien spacecraft piloted by a group of Coneheads lookalikes who unleash a giant hairy creature on the people.

It's kinda funny to read the Wikipedia synopsis of this movie after watching this thing.  The first paragraph boils down the first fifty minutes of this movie, while the last twenty minutes are covered in three.  That's also what it feels like watching this movie because for a long-ass time nothing happens.  Our heroes wander around in the snow for endless periods of time just looking around, without much character development or plot movement.  And when the big beast arrives in the climax it waddles around for most of its time.  And it grabs a woman and kidnaps her for...reasons.  Sexual reason?  Dunno.

It also doesn't help that the print of the film is pretty bad.  It's about as rough a shape as the films you would see in early first season episodes of Mystery Science Theater.  In fact there were many times in which I looked at the bottom of the screen and expected green silhouettes of Joel and the Bots.  At times, this washed out and dirty movie can be an eyestrain.

If I were to say something good about it I'd say once the beast starts terrorizing the locals some of the models and low camera angles offer a strong sense of scale.  The sequence where he tears up some cabins and tents is pretty solid.  I also think actress Barbara Wilson is very pretty.  I wish I could comment on her acting, but that would require the audio being listenable for me to critique her.

But if you're looking for a good 50's snowbound alien invasion I strongly recommend The Thing from Another World instead.


The Trax

Early on I found myself being extremely won over by this riff.  Bill reading the wrong spinning newspaper headlines is gold and there is a solid callback to Red Zone Cuba at one point.  But topping them all is a moment where Kevin reacts as if the male lead has stabbed the female lead through the abdomen with his skis, and the visuals of the film totally support it, that left me laughing so hard I had to stop the movie so I could catch my breath.  And then I rewound it and watched it again.  If the bar was set this high early on I was hoping the rest of the riff kept up.

And then the film slows down and the riffing starts to get repetitive.  Invasion of the Animal People is really at the mercy of the film its watching, because there are long patches where there really isn't a lot to riff on.  While gags do work, sometimes they rely on repeating jokes that were funny or just go to the generic "I'm bored" riff.  Riffing picks up for the finale, because the film is finally giving them something to work with.  It never reaches the heights of the first twenty minutes, but it does nicely.  They note that despite the title there is only a singular "Animal Person" in the film and ride on it a bit, and they enjoy dubbing over the beast as well as giving the angry mob chasing it a few choice rants.

However the damage has mostly been done and what promised to be a great riff teeters from being a good one down close to being a mediocre one.  I question whether this movie was properly riffable, but I won't deny the laughs I did have.  It also gave me a bigger gutbuster than I was expecting very early on, so kudos.

Good


Willy Whistle (Rifftrax Shorts)


Rifftrax Year:  2014
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

What to do when you need to cross the street without a police officer or a crossing guard?
"That's when you need to hallucinate a talking whistle!"

Willy Whistle is here to teach kids about the safety rules when crossing the street.  This includes magically conjuring cars out of thin air and making children wear purple and yellow latex gloves for some reason.  It takes six full fucking minutes for him to explain the mechanics of turning one's head back and forth to check both ways.  Then repeat.  Over.  And over.  And...over...

One can't accuse Willy Whistle of not teaching its lesson though he only has one lesson to teach, making this seem a bit like a waste of production money.  But I guess if only one child didn't get hit by a car thanks to Willy's existence then it was worth it.

As a Rifftrax Willy Whistle isn't very long, which means hopefully it's packed with laughs to make up for the fact that there might be something more prolific for the same cost.  Willy Whistle is inconsistent in that regard, often bouncing back and forth between a fair laugh and a safe gag that you would expect the guys to make (and have made in other shorts many times before).  But if our riffers hit their target sometimes they can knock one out of the park...

"Now stick Willy in your mouth and give him a long hard blow!"

The question becomes do I recommend Willy Whistle based on its best moments?  I'm going to say yes.  Some of the riffs can't be missed and the short certainly isn't unwatchable.  It's not a laugh riot though, and there comes a point where one wishes our riffers might work on some new material.

Thumbs Up
👍

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII DVD Retrospective


Buy Here!

Featured Episodes:
Lost Continent
Crash of Moons
The Beast of Yucca Flats
Jack Frost

Release Date:  July 13th, 2010

If there is one word to describe the episode selection of Volume XVIII it would be consistency.  There's not a bad episode in the bunch.  The only drawback is that there isn't a great one either, though others seem to think more highly of certain episodes than I.  It's certainly a set that has episodes with some sort of iconic stature, with the "rock climbing" in Lost Continent, "Flag on the Moon" in Beast of Yucca Flats, and just the general weirdness of Jack Frost.  If I were to personally choose a favorite I'd say I most admire Yucca Flats, while Lost Continent and Jack Frost are about neck and neck for runner up.

Average Rating (scale of 1 to 4):  3

The video tended to be a very controversial subject on this release, sparking debates of the degrading masters of the series and how/if they could be cleaned up and whether Shout should release episodes this degraded.  Lost Continent is the big offender, offering up fairly large video flaws that interrupt the presentation of the episode at quite a few moments.  Beast of Yucca Flats is also consistently flawed, though far less troublesome.  Crash of Moons and Jack Frost both look fine.  Other than Lost Continent, which has a few hiccups, audio is quality.

If you want extras Volume XVIII's got 'em!  We got intros for two episodes by MST cast members:  Frank lovingly introduces Lost Continent while Kevin has delightful memories of Jack Frost.  The only movie related special features really pertain to Beast of Yucca Flats, offering up a documentary on the making of the film called No Dialogue Necessary:  Making an "Off-Camera Masterpiece."  There is also an interview with Coleman Francis collaborator Lee Strosnider, who discusses working with the infamous director.  We also have a stills gallery and a theatrical trailer, while the only other movie related feature that doesn't belong to Yucca Flats is another trailer for Lost Continent.  The set closes out with a set of MST Hour wraps for Crash of Moons.

Once again Volume XVIII follows the trend of stock covers for MST releases, providing the generic starry backdrop with the theater silhouettes on the bottom looking up at the roman numeral "XVIII" with the logo in the upper left corner.  The color primarily featured on this set distinguishing it from the others is a sky blue.  Also normal for a Shout set is the stellar interior artwork for the four slim cases within.  Lost Continent features Crow and Tom Servo running from a killer Brontosaur, which is standing next to a fallen rocket.  Crash of Moons (titled on the set as Crash of the Moons) has Crow and Servo standing on one of the titular moons looking up at another, while a space station is in orbit in the corner.  Beast of Yucca Flats has the duo of bots running from the titular Tor Johnson beast.  Finally Jack Frost has Crow as a frozen Nastenka while Servo is dressed as Ivan, who tries to fend off a bunch of angry trees from harming his beloved.

Disc art is standard as well, with Shout's fallback of starry backdrop and film logo.  The menus take the idea that they started playing with in the previous set by inserting audio clips from the show into the CGI animation and evolve them into almost new host segments.  I love the menus that Shout has developed from here on out, and they're always fun to see what they create next.  Lost Continent features Crow and Servo on a safari, occasionally stumbling on a Triceratops.  For Crash of Moons Crow enters the SOL bridge and discovers Servo and Gypsy watching Crash of Moons on the Hexfield and isn't happy about it.  Beast of Yucca Flats has the irradiated Tor Johnson crashing the bridge and trying to kill Crow and Servo.  Finally Jack Frost features the mushroom wizard invading the bridge and annoying Crow and Servo.

Taking all of this in the big caveat is the picture quality on Lost Continent and Yucca Flats.  Which both feature some of the weakest presentation of any episode of the series on disc to date (in fact Lost Continent is arguably the worst.  If this is a deal breaker then the bottom line is that you shouldn't pick up this set.  But there are four funny episodes waiting for fans here, including some that might wind up being your own personal favorites despite not being some of mine.  Despite it's harmful video, Volume XVIII is amazingly satisfactory in episode selection and special features and they are episodes a MSTie will want, just maybe not in this condition.